Down In The Blues: Origin One Wash Up


The NSW Blues endured a rinsing, and there’s a fair bit to wade through from the Origin One wash out.

It’s a rocky start for the Michael Maguire era and the head coach himself has a few questions to answer, as does his spine and Mr. Klein.

Bad, but was it a send-off?

The game changed dramatically seven minutes into the match when Joseph Suaalii was sent from the field for a high shot on Queensland fullback Reece Walsh. The tackle itself was bad. It looked bad live, and it still was concerning when we slowed things down, but a send off? That’s an overzealous call from Ashley Klein and the bunker.

Joseph Suaalii is sent off by referee Ashley Klein. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

We can all acknowledge it was high, but, there’s a number of factors to consider.

Suaalii’s feet remain on the ground when contact is made. This is one of the key things the bunker assesses when determining reckless or careless. So let’s mark that in the careless section.

Whilst players do need to account for a height difference, the mismatch here is, excuse the pun, a tall order to overcome. Walsh stands at 177cm, Suaalii at 196cm – a 19cm difference. To take a note out of the great Taskmaster assistant Alex Horne’s book – that’s roughly the size of one domestic cat, five and a half black board erasers or 1900 sheets of paper. That’s quite literally a stack of difference. And Suaalii DID try to account for it. There’s both a bend in the back and the arms wrapping.

Perhaps the most notable point here is, Walsh slipped. Whilst he typically moves with the grace of a Michael Jackson and Fred Astaire love child, he was a little more like a french waiter on this particular play. He slips a pass outside, but also slips before contact, dropping his height even more.

And lastly, it’s Origin. There will be niggle, there will be bucketloads of aggression and some questionable contact from time to time. I’m not saying off with their heads…ok bad analogy, but you get my point.

10 in the bin and on-report would have been sufficient.

Perhaps the biggest conundrum Suaalii’s infraction poses, is whether a team should be permanently penalised for the actions of one player. Maybe the NRL needs to look at a personal expulsion for the player causing the infringement, combined with a period of 10 minutes where the team itself is a man down, before a return to the full 13. It changed the game and when the call is not clear cut, it’s a harsh price to pay.

Conversely, do we look at ruling an offending player out from the game if his illegal offence causes the victim to be scratched? Once more I’d be looking at the initial sinbinning, and then dependent on the victims outcome, further punishment for that specific player, not the entire team thereafter.

Ashley Klein’s performance itself left plenty to be desired. The 10-metre and ruck officiating was a farce at times, but he and the bunker DID get the non hip drop call correct – not everything is a hip drop ladies and gentlemen, sometimes, we’re just getting low – queue The Yin Yang twins.

Madge muddles

Much has been written and filmed about Maguire’s coaching tenures from his glory days with South Sydney to the struggles of ‘Tales From Tiger Town’. But, selections aside, his response to the Suaalii incident – more so than any selections raises the most questions.

Fool me once? Shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me. Fool me multiple times? I’m Michael Maguire doing my best Jason Taylor and Kyle Lovett/Chris Lawrence impersonation.

Queensland immediately targetted the Blues right hand defensive edge following the send off. Two tries came in quick succession and the game was essentially done and dusted. That tends to happen when you have the speed and power of Tom Dearden, Selwyn Cobbo and Murray Taulagi. Truly an awesome foursome. Four up against three, sounds like a problem and so it was.

Liam Martin shifted out, with a hapless Nicho Hynes (more on him shortly) on his inside and carnage ensued. Obviously Martin is makeshift, but Queensland shifted the ball to that edge multiple times immediately and returned a result almost every foray – line breaks, half chances and of course two tries.

Through all this, three middles remained on the field. Jake Trbojevic, Payne Haas and Cam Mcinnes. Martin was forced to occupy a dual second row and centre position, constant overlaps ensued, all the while McInnes remained at lock, Haas and Trbojevic at prop. In this instance, surely one of the middles shifts to recalibrate the defence line. By the time a shift occurred with Stephen Crichton sliding across and Jake Trbojevic coming off the field the damage was done.

A side note on the usage of Jurbo. Here is an 80-minute workhorse who has just been named captain and yet he spent just 29 minutes on the field. He’s not an impact player, but he will tackle to a stand still and help set the middle. He, McInnes and Isaah Yeo are effectively the same player. Start one and select another, three makes no sense.

Your Hyness

Poor Nicho. The Origin arena has been a very cruel one for him.

This game was meant to finally allow the Dally M winner to showcase his true wares after playing out of position in game one of the 2023 series.

Hynes was sadly a shadow of his normal self and was far and away the worst player on the field. His defence was left wanting time and again, but his attack – or lack thereof – was the bigger concern.

Any good rugby league half, or even pundit for that matter, knows that in order to create opportunities for those around you, you need to dig into the line and engage defenders. Almost every possession from Hynes was a release metres short of the defensive line and at a slow pace. No second guessing, no committing defenders, rarely even an angle change.

Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Dearden in particular, constantly challenged the line. I’m not even necessarily talking about taking on the line with a darting run trying to squeeze through, but the willingness to take a hit and pop a late pass to simply keep defenders on their toes.

Daly Cherry-Evans breaks away in Origin One (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Kicking wise it was also a largely average night for Nicho. He did nearly kick a 40/20 and set up a try for Zac Lomax (who was outstanding on debut), but his general play kicking was unfortunately simply a series of meek up and unders and a few fluffed kicks right down the throat of the Hammer. By the second half, Lomax had come in field looking to provide something that resembled a torpedo bomb, whilst Blues fans cried for the boot of Matt Burton.

Based on his game one display, Mitch Moses or Burton will be slotting into the halves for game two. Jarome Luai is well and truly safe, he was one of the only players who consistently looked dangerous for the Blues and played with plenty of speed and his trademark creative flair.

So what went right and where too from here?

For the Blues, not a lot. Stephen Crichton was excellent. Zac Lomax ran for more than 200 metres and scored a try, Spencer Leniu was damaging in his two stints, Liam Martin was reliable as ever and defensively Reece Robson was sound.

Haumole Olakau’atu largely lacked impact, often being caught flat footed, and whilst an improvement on his 2023 Origin series, James Tedesco still looked past his prime both sides of the ball. McInnes, whilst being the little engine that could, ultimately is just that, perhaps a little too small for Origin if the choice is made to also have Yeo and Trbojevic in the team. The bench needs more punch from some genuine line benders and offloaders (my world for an offload! Just eight from the NSW forwards and none that were particularly significant).

You’d have to imagine Dylan Edwards comes in for game two, Matt Burton snags a bench utility spot and Mitchell Moses starts at halfback at the least.

For Queensland, Billy Slaters selection of Cobbo, who IS big and strong enough to play in the second row, proved to be a master stroke and we will likely see the same 17 named for game two in Melbourne on June 26.

It’s a must win match for the Blues and Michael Maguire is now under serious pressure. The absence of his key man in Nathan Cleary is a tough one to contend with, but as Brad Arthur recently found out, things aren’t always fair when a talisman goes missing.

Let me know your thoughts Roarers!

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